“I have friends in New York making a hell of a lot more than I’m making,” Verdirame says, swirling a Johnnie Walker Black at the noisy perestroika-chic Red Square lounge in Mandalay Bay. “But I have a nice house with a pool, a Jacuzzi, and a view of the Strip. It was a great move for me.”
Besides the advantages of the lifestyle, moving to Vegas has opened the eyes of some attorneys to more modern ways of making a buck. Chris Handy, a sleek-dressing 33-year-old Harvard Law graduate, arrived in Vegas two years ago and is quickly learning the local ethos. “Lawyers are stereotypically bad businesspeople,” Handy says. “You can have somebody doing a $400 million merger and getting paid only $250,000.” So Handy and his friends Perry Rogers and Todd Wilson formed PRISM (Premier Integrated Sports Management), a small Vegas triumvirate that represents Shaquille O’Neal, Andre Agassi, and two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castronevesand negotiates their endorsement deals, some of which can reach eight figures.
Handy cautions that Vegas still carries echoes of its self-regulated pastdays when your word was everything and broken promises meant broken kneecaps. “There’ve been some people I’ve worked with on the East Coast who would be run out of this town in about a day,” he says.
Anthony Pearl, 34, associate general counsel for Harrah’s Entertainment, learned about desert diplomacy when his company bought Binion’s Horseshoe, a landmark casino with a legendarily checkered past. “There is a collision between the Old Vegas relationships and the new, spiffy Wall Street lawyers,” says Pearl, yet another recent Harvard grad. Shortly after joining Harrah’s, Pearl found himself in a velvet-walled steak house, trying to convince martini-sipping members of the Old Guard that his army of pin-striped prospectors wouldn’t rob the casino of its soul. “I was naïve to think that you just get in a big conference room, negotiate the business terms of the deal, and hammer it out,” he says.
Like the rest of this new wave of legal frontiersmen in the desert, Pearl doesn’t mind learning the atavistic ways. At home, he lives in a hilltop house with marble bathrooms and practices his putts on a private green. At the office, he works at a desk in front of a glossy aerial blowup of Las Vegas. To Pearl, the Strip from this vantage looks like a chess setwith $7 billion worth (and counting) of pieces on his side of the board. As he traces his fingers over the rooftops of Harrah’s and the Rio, a grin stretches across his face. “I love the view from this angle,” he says.